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The Giles County man is charged in connection with the 2011 death of his 7-month-old daughter.
MATT GENTRY| The Roanoke Times
Aaron Edwards (center) looks on as attorneys discuss his case in Giles County Court in Pearisburg on Friday.
Friday, April 26, 2013
PEARISBURG — Though he doesn’t dispute the fact that his infant daughter died with bruises on her face, rib fractures and swelling in her brain, Aaron Edwards didn’t do anything to harm his child, his lawyer said Friday.
Edwards, 26, is charged with child abuse and neglect and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the March 2011 death of his 7-month-old daughter, Ella Dawn Edwards.
His trial, scheduled to last four more days, began Friday with jury selection, opening statements and two witnesses’ testimony.
According to Giles County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bobby Lilly, EMS personnel were called to a residence in Rich Creek on March 1, 2011. When they arrived, they found Ella breathing but limp and unresponsive. Ella was transported to Carilion Giles Memorial Hospital and then flown to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where she underwent surgery to relieve the pressure from her brain swelling and remained on life support for several days before dying on March 8, 2011, Lilly said. The medical examiner’s office found her cause of death to be a traumatic brain injury.
“We may never know exactly how the trauma was inflicted, but the timeline shows the defendant was caring for the child,” Lilly said.
But according to Edwards’ lawyer, Chris Tuck, there is no evidence that Edwards injured his daughter. Tuck told jurors that Ella was a sickly child, born with a hole in her heart and later discovered to have a vitamin D deficiency, which could account for easily broken or fractured bones.
“Ella is dead, and there’s no bringing her back,” Tuck said. “But I’m asking you to keep an open mind. … L isten when he tells you he did not do a single thing to hurt this baby, to neglect this baby.”
For instance, Tuck said, the bruises on Ella’s face could have happened when she was in a play chair that Aaron Edwards later placed in storage. Edwards put the chair in storage because of the danger it posed to Ella and her older brother, Tuck said.
According to Tuck, Ella lived in a home with her parents, Aaron and Karen Edwards, and her older brother who was a toddler at the time. The parents usually took turns checking on the children throughout the night, Tuck said. At about 3:30 a.m. March 1, 2011, Aaron Edwards made Ella a bottle and turned on the television in the living room because Ella was having trouble sleeping, Tuck said. He propped her up with some pillows in the living room, and he later returned to bed, according to Tuck.
When Edwards woke up at 6:30 a.m. to go to his job as a tree cutter, he noticed that Ella was unresponsive, Tuck said.
Shawn Farewell, an EMT with Carilion’s ambulance service, testified Friday that he was just getting off work when he heard the call at about 6:40 a.m. to respond to the residence in Rich Creek. He said he arrived first, greeted at the door by the parents. Ella was lying in the living room, unresponsive with a weak pulse, Farewell said. There was bruising on the left side of her face and blood on her nose, he added.
During his opening statement, Lilly said medical professionals will testify that Ella required surgery, had retinal hemorrhages and rib fractures in various stages of healing.
Lilly said there will be no evidence presented as to who caused the rib injuries. The point, he said, is that no one sought medical attention for Ella between the time she fractured her ribs and the time she received the head trauma.
Twice during Friday’s hearing, Circuit Court Judge Colin Gibb instructed the jury of seven men and seven women to leave the room so that the lawyers could take up the issue of Karen Edwards.
Karen Edwards is also facing a charge of child abuse and neglect. She is scheduled to have a two-day jury trial, beginning on Aug. 28, according to online records.
When called next week to testify during Aaron Edwards’ trial, Karen Edwards will likely invoke the Fifth Amendment because of her ongoing criminal matter, according to discussions between the lawyers and the judge while the jury was out of the courtroom. Her previous testimony in a preliminary hearing will still be admissible, Gibb ruled.
Karen Edwards cannot use marital privilege to avoid testifying, according to court discussions on Friday.
Tuck told jurors that Karen Edwards wrote a letter to her husband on Feb. 14, 2011, in which she expressed her frustration that the couple did not do anything for Valentine’s Day and mentioned that she was depressed and often left the children alone in another room all day, only interacting with them in order to change and feed them.
A few individuals were excused from the jury pool Friday after expressing concerns that they would not be able to remain unbiased after seeing Ella’s autopsy photographs, which Lilly described as “graphic,” “fairly detailed” and “not pleasant.”
Tuck agreed, calling the pictures “disturbing.” But he and Lilly reminded jurors to base decisions on evidence instead of emotions.
“It’s going to be a long few days,” Lilly said at the end of his opening statement.
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